Television
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Television

Expect more

Posted February 2nd, 2010 by debritz

I heard a story recently about a police officer who pulled up a taxi driver for a minor traffic offence. The cabby pleaded with the cop: "Give me a break. I'm driving all day, every day. I only crossed a double line, it’s not so serious – and I can’t afford to lose any more points." The policeman looked him in the eye and said: “No, you don’t deserve a break. You’re a professional driver; this is what you do for a living. And if you can’t do it properly, you don't deserve to have a licence.” Harsh? Well, maybe. But what if the cab driver in question was a repeat offender who used that excuse every time, and often got away with it? It would mean there’s a dangerous driver on the road. And if the police routinely cut cabbies, truckers and other fulltime drivers some slack, the roads would be full of people who drove as if they had immunity from the law. Now, to the not-so-life-threatening business of journalism ... I’m sad to report that an increasing number of people in my profession are just like that taxi driver: they believe the rules don't apply to them. I’ve done lots of jobs in newspapers, and I’ve worked in the electronic and online media, and I’ve met quite a few cowboys and girls in my time. Now, with resources becoming scarcer, it’s time to weed them out. I’m not talking about the people who make the occasional mistake – we all do that, so please don’t comb through my blog to shove my unedited errors in my face – I’m talking about the people who demonstrate no professionalism whatsoever in undertaking the job they are paid to do. At one prestigious newspaper I could but won’t name, there’s a specialist writer who can’t spell the names of the people involved in the industry he (or maybe it’s she) writes about. The bosses laugh it off as if it doesn’t matter because it’s “the subs’ job” to fix it up. Another person I’ve dealt with blithely ignores deadlines, despite having a small workload and a round where late-breaking news is very much the exception. “Don’t worry,” these slackers seem to be saying, “the subs will just work harder to get it through. Oh, yeah, and I’ll make sure I fire off a complaint when they make a mistake even if I file my last copy more than an hour after the page is supposed to be complete.” Oh, and in case you’re an indignant reporter reading this, there are more than a few slack sub-editors, too. But because jobs – especially subbing jobs – are being cut across the board in journalism, everybody has to lift their game. If you’re in a round, the absolute minimum requirement is being able to spell the names of the people you’re writing about. If you can’t do that, how can anybody trust the other “facts” in the story? If you have a deadline, you stick to it. Preferably, you beat it wherever possible. If journalists want respect – and if they want secure jobs – they have to start behaving in a professional manner. The vast majority of my friends in the media do their job very well, but many of them are moving on. They are retiring, or they are taking up jobs in government and commercial PR. It would be easy for their bosses to replace them with cheap workers who aren’t very good – but that would be a false economy. What I believe should be happening is that the onus for accuracy is put on the shoulders of those who originate the copy, not those who have to handle it down the track and often don’t have access to the first-hand sources of information. This will speed-up the production process and lead to savings all around. If a mistake is made, it is worn by the person who made the error and corrected as soon as possible. Only when journalists are prepared to “own” their work, rather than palm off irritants like spelling and grammar and accuracy, will they be able to distinguish themselves sufficiently from the bloggers and enthusiasts who are threatening the viability of professional media. The punters don’t care what school you went to, who you know or who designed your outfit, they just want to read, and hear and see news and comment that informs and entertains – and is trustworthy and reliable. The time-wasters and amateurs will, hopefully, fade away, but the people who do the job properly and are willing to adapt their working practices will thrive whatever “delivery platform” they end up working on.

I want my BBC

Posted January 31st, 2010 by debritz

There are sound commercial and legal reasons why we can't watch broadcast television from other countries in Australia. I know this but, for a brief moment, I got excited when I followed a Google ad to the Tellyport website which promises, for a monthly fee, to provide access via proxy to the BBC iPlayer plus Hulu and other US online television services. Then I read the FAQs, which ended with:

Whilst offering a proxy service is legal, using it to watch geo-targeted content may not be and our members are probably in violation of the broadcaster's terms of use. Please note that a UK television license [sic] is required to watch live BBC television, even on the Internet ...

In other words, we will charge you to do something that is illegal. Interestingly, for six months of last year I still held a British television licence while living in Australia. Would it have been legal for me to use a proxy service then?
PS: Why would I want to watch British TV from Australia? Because some of my favourite shows are not available here, even on pay-TV, or they are screened long after their use-by date. For example, I want to be able to watch topical shows like Have I Got News for You and Mock the Week, and I want to watch them in the week they are screened in Britain. I'd most certainly pay for the privelege. If UK-TV or another cable channel (or, preferably, the ABC) isn't interested in buying and screening them, why can't these shows be made available here on iTunes?
PPS: Yes, I know there are other, illegal, ways to watch whatever I want, but why should people be forced to break the law just to watch what they like?

Seven taketh away

Posted January 30th, 2010 by debritz

Is signing Matthew Johns really a coup for Channel Seven? To my mind, it's a calculated risk that Johns, who was suspended by Channel Nine last year after revelations on the ABC'S Four Corner program about a 2002 group sex scandal, has the talent to draw big audiences to his planned variety program. Probably just as important to Seven, though, is that having Johns in a pair of golden handcuffs weakens its opposition. If, as some have tipped, the Johns show is scheduled against his old program, The Footy Show, it could have a terminal effect on one of Nine's longest-running and most popular franchises. Or, as others believe, if Johns is scheduled against the revived Hey Hey, it could cripple one of Nine's great hopes for 2010 and beyond.

Not enough information

Posted January 26th, 2010 by debritz

A question for traditional media: is it wise to assume that all your audience is also connected to the internet? I was watching a clip from Channel Seven's Sunrise where viewers were advised to check the program's website for details of their guest's stage performances. Sure enough, the details were there, but the advice was not very helpful for people with no net access. Would it have been too much trouble to also scroll the dates and venues along the bottom of the screen?

Room for a view

Posted January 25th, 2010 by debritz

A Channel Seven media release announces a new show, The White Room, which is "coming soon". The release says:

The White Room is a new comedy game show that celebrates everything Australians love about television.
This original format, developed by Seven, features two teams of well-loved TV faces, established comedians and some of Australia's best emerging comedy talents, as they are quizzed, challenged, poked and prodded about TV shows and TV stars.
It will be hosted by comedians and broadcasters Tony Moclair and Julian Schiller.

Sounds like a response to Ten's hit, Talkin' 'Bout My Generation.

Official: Sunrise will rise again tomorrow

Posted January 24th, 2010 by debritz

Channel Seven is calling it "a new dawn" for its breakfast show Sunrise. Get it? In brief: starting tomorrow, January 25, there's a new set "unlike anything else on Australian television"; Kevin Rudd is returning for a weekly segment; 3AW's Neil Mitchell will be giving his opinion on the issues of the day; there'll be more Aussie rules coverage featuring Tom Harley, Matthew Richardson and AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou; Fifi Box is becoming entertainment editor and Grant Deyer is returning to present the weather; and it will still be hosted by David "Kochie" Koch and Melissa Doyle. Oh and, as usual, only a very tiny percentage of the Australian population will actually be watching morning television, but both Seven and Nine believe it's an important ratings battleground.

Nigel's back on the hippy trail

Posted January 23rd, 2010 by debritz

Remember Neil the hippy from The Young Ones? Well, actor Nigel Planer has written about his own adventures in the 1970s and 1990s on the "hippy trail" in India -- and he's just been there again. Here's a picture taken this month of Planer, whose screen credits range from The Bill to SpongeBob SquarePants, exploring the subcontinent.

ABC launches TV news channel

Posted January 21st, 2010 by debritz

The ABC will launch a 24-hour free-to-air television news channel, accoridng to internet reports. It's been the subject of much conjecture in the past few months. Managing director Mark Scott told ABC news:

"No media organisation in the country is better equipped to deliver this channel than the national broadcaster. We can draw on the investment already made in the ABC, through its major newsrooms in every state and territory, 12 international bureaux and 60 regional newsrooms, to deliver to Australians a top-quality 24-hour news service that is comprehensive, independent and up to the minute."

Lofty on a high

Posted January 19th, 2010 by debritz

It wasn't just the brief return of Bruce Paige over Christmas that got people switching to Channel 9's Brisbane news. According to a network media release, "Nine News celebrated the return of [usual weeknight reader] Andrew Lofthouse last week with a solid victory". Nine News' weekday bulletin claimed the week with five wins out of five and an average viewing audience of 232,000 to Seven’s 208,000. According to the release "it was Nine News Queensland’s second weekly win for the year to date, claiming weeks 1 and 3 with Seven winning week 2 by the narrowest of margins." It's great to see some competition between the stations that doesn't just involve one-upmanship in Haiti.
PS: Nine also says new mum Melissa Downes will be back in the newsreading chair on February 8.

Never mind the ratings

Posted January 19th, 2010 by debritz

Yesterday, the Seven Network in Australia unveiled its online catch-up service. About the same time, a British broadcaster has written in Media Guardian that such services, plus time-shifting channels, are the ones to watch when it comes to measuring TV programs' true popularity. BBC Vision director Jana Bennett writes that we should not longer get excited just by the overnight veiwing figures but measure a show's popularity by taking into acccount how many people are seeking it out on catch-up services. An example in the UK is the Doctor Who Christmas special, which was "time-shifted" (i.e. recorded on a PVR and viewed later) by 2.6 million people and watched by 1.4 million on the BBC's catch-up service, the iPlayer. Bennett writes "gone are the days when a programme lives and dies by its overnights".
PS: Meanwhile, Channel 9 released figures, also yesterday, showing that its summer-holiday offerings out-rated Seven's and Ten's overall and in the age breakdowns.
Update: The Australian has a story on time-shifted programs (here) in which media buyers Mitchell and Partners' John Alderton (presumably not the bloke from Please Sir!) says they will ignore time-shifting when negotiating advertising prices.

Going full Circle?

Posted January 16th, 2010 by debritz

Will The Circle go the way of The Catch-Up, or will Channel 10's attempt to emulate America's The View be more successful? One thing in its favour is its morning (probably 10am) timeslot -- but wil the hosts be up to the job? According to online reports, those hosts will be Denise "Ding Dong" Drysdale, Chrissie Swan, Yumi Stynes and Gorgi Coghlan (nee Quill). They've got quite a few demographics covered there, but will they have the smarts, the sense of humour and the chemistry to carry it off? And do Channel 's Morning with Kerri-Anne and Seven's The Morning Show have anything to worry about? Of course, they'll be fighting over a quite small total audience, but it's a time of day favoured by direct marketers with big bucks to spend on inane high-pressure advertorials. Perhaps The Circle should kick off by offering each viewer a free set of steak knives.
PS: I'm predicting a change/addition to the hosting line-up within six months.

Leno 'signs for hour-long show'

Posted January 15th, 2010 by debritz

Update:The Daily Beast reports that Conan O'Brien will leave NBC with a payout and he will be free to join another network. And O'Brien has put The Tonight Show up for sale on Craigslist.

If TMZ.com is to be believed (and it was right about Michael Jackson, but wrong about other things), Jay Leno has struck a deal with NBC to host and hour-long nightly show from 11.35pm -- not a half-hour show as previously reported. If that's the case, Conan O'Brien (who has said moving Leno to 11.35pm will destroy The Tonight Show franchise) is definitely out. To paraphrase a Tweet from a few days ago (which I thought was from Australian comic Wil Anderson but I can't find it now), I like both Leno and O'Brien but I know when somebody's getting screwed. Of course, the one who is really laughing here is David Letterman, who missed out to Leno when Johnny Carson left The Tonight Show and has been beating O'Brien in the ratings. The big questions now for NBC are: Is Leno damaged goods; will he ever be No. 1 again; and will O'Brien make an impact if he goes to Fox? The network will, of course, be hoping that the public has a short memory - which, sadly, is very often the case.
Coco image by Mike Mitchell

Say that again ...

Posted January 14th, 2010 by debritz

From Channel 7 Brisbane news:

With the help of his daughter, [man's name] will be 75 when he graduates with a Bachelor of Arts.

How old will he be without her help?
Related story: Don't let it dangle

Shak axed

Posted January 13th, 2010 by debritz

The most popular story on this blog in recent times has been about the Queensland-produced Channel 9 kids' show The Shak. The show's many thousands of fans, then, will be extremely disappointed to hear reports currently circulating on Twitter that the show - along with all other in-house children's programming - has been axed. If true, this would mean job losses in Brisbane and elsewhere.
Update: Channel 9 has reportedly denied it's axing all in-house production, but The Shak is not being renewed. That's still bad news for Brisbane and local production.
Jan 15 update: The Courier-Mail has caught up with the story here.

Hey Hey, it's a lesson from Leno

Posted January 10th, 2010 by debritz

Anybody who has been following the debacle at NBC in the US involving Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and, essentially, the future of the network - if you haven't you can catch up here - will be struck by how different the television landscape is in America. For starters, 10pm, where Leno is pretty much tanking, is regarded as prime time, and there are still enough people awake to make the 11.30pm hotly contested between the free-to-air stations. Here, of course, 8.30pm is prime time and we're mostly tucked up in bed (especially on a school night) or doing more interesting things than watching TV at 10pm. But that doesn't mean there aren't lessons to be learned for our FTA networks. The original idea to move Leno to 10pm was made partly because his show was cheaper to make than a drama series. In Australia, making drama is expensive, but we buy most of ours from America, making it cheaper to schedule than a variety show - especially a variety show as ambitious as, say, this year's return of Hey Hey It's Saturday (albeit not on a Saturday night). Here's where the lesson comes in. NBC's other big reason for rescheduling Leno because he was rating well at 11.30pm on the Tonight Show, which had long been promised to O'Brien, and they didn't want to lose him to another network. But when they moved Leno to prime time, he couldn't raise the same kind of ratings figures as the scripted dramas his show was replacing. This put a damper on the whole night, meaning lower ratings for local news bulletins at 11pm (yes, a full five hours after our main news bulletins) and, in turn, for O'Brien on the Tonight Show. The lesson for Channel 9 and its Hey Hey strategy could be that people might like something when it's packaged in one way (say, as two nostalgia-heavy specials) but not when it's packaged in another way. Also, there's a danger in relying on one thing, or one star, who used to be popular. The danger for Hey Hey is that it might be too similar to its former incarnation to attract new audiences, and too different (because it will lack some of the stars who made the specials successful) to make the diehard fans want to tune in to each show. Of course, maybe they'll get it just right - and at least Nine hasn't bet the farm on Daryl Somers the way NBS did on Leno.
Update: NBC has confirmed that Leno will move to the 11.30pm slot, with O'Brien (if he signs on the dotted line) and the Tonight Show starting at midnight.

Idol off the air?

Posted January 9th, 2010 by debritz

Is Australian Idol about the follow Big Brother to the television graveyard? According to this report, the talented show will be "rested" in 2010. If that's the case, the chance of it being aroused from its slumber anytime soon seem remote.* There was a time when Channel 10 had nothing much up its sleeve so renewing cashcows BB and AI was a foregone conclusion, even thought their ratings were sliding. Now, with the MasterChef franchise and Talkin' 'Bout My Generation, it has a couple of new hits that should work for a few more seasons. But, of course, any good programmer would want to have something in reserve because nothing - not even the continued success of MasterChef - is a given in the rapidly changing media landscape. And, as I've said before, free-to-air stations are going to have to get used to drawing smaller and smaller total audiences.
* Of course, things being cyclical and ideas being finite, the Idol concept will eventually return, probably under another name.
PS: Apparently the winner of the 2009 season was Stan Walker. I wish him every success. If I was him, I'd be billing myself as the "last Idol". Or does that sound a bit too much like and Arnold Schwarzenegger film?

Is anybody out there?

Posted January 8th, 2010 by debritz

Bruce is boss

Posted January 7th, 2010 by debritz

If Bruce Paige, the longtime Brisbane Channel 9 newsreader who has returned to the box in the past few weeks as a holiday fill-in, is feeling unloved, he should get on to Facebook. A Bruce Paige Appreciation Society has been set up with the aim of making sure he doesn't disappear from the airwaves altogether. Maybe that's not such a bad idea. The word from Mt Coot-tha is that the news has been rating very well indeed with BP solo at the helm over the silly season. He must be happy with that.

Don't let it dangle

Posted January 6th, 2010 by debritz

Another day, another dangling participle (hanging participle/modifier) on the television news. I'm sick of hearing statements such as this (from the January 5 Nine Brisbane news): "Bashed so badly and now so traumatised, detectives haven't yet been able to talk to the young victim." A girl was bashed, not the detectives (although they may have been traumatised). Earlier on the same day and the same channel, the Today newsreader said a man would be "charged with killing his wife in a Sydney court today" -- which sounds like a remarkable piece of clairvoyance about a particularly daring criminal plan. Of course, the killing had already happened but the charges were yet to be heard in court. It's not a matter of me being a pedant, it's a matter of clear communication, which is the very least we can expect of journalists working for a professional news organisation.

Bold knight

Posted December 31st, 2009 by debritz

Congratulations to Patrick "Captain Picard" Stewart for receiving a knighthood in the New Year's honours -- presumably for his outstanding work on American Dad.

FTA soon DOA?

Posted December 30th, 2009 by debritz

It won't be long into the new year until the free-to-air TV network bosses in Australia -- especially those at Channels 9 and 7 -- resume their war of words over who's got the biggest ... er, ratings. But behind the bravado must be the realisation that they're in a business that's shrinking. While their second (and soon third) digital channels will extend their profitability in the short term, the networks will never be the licences to print money they once were. Long gone are the days when a large percentage of the audience would gather around the TV to watch a single program, such as the MASH finale. At least not at the same time and on the same channel. According to blogger David Dale, the biggest TV audience this century was for the Hewitt v Safin Australian Open tennis final in 2005, which scored 4.04 million viewers for Channel 7. That's about one in five of the Australian population. In the previous century, more than 6 million people (one in three Australians) watched Princess Diana's 1997 funeral, her 1981 wedding to Prince Charles and the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games opening and closing ceremonies. But these are among the exceptions rather than the rule. Today an audience of two million -- one in 11 Australians -- is regarded as something to celebrate at the networks. On an average night, perhaps on one in six of us are even watching FTA television. The rest of us are doing something else -- including a growing number who are on computers, some of them (often illegally) downloading exactly what they want to watch and watching it when they please. And that, of course, is the future of what we now call television. The real money will be in the production of shows that people want to watch, however, whenever and wherever they choose to watch them.
PS: The top-rating show on FTA in the US last week -- Sunday Night Football on NBC -- was watched by 19.04 million people. That's only 1/27th of the population. Even allowing for the silly season, it's clear FTA ain't a powerhouse any more.

It's only natural, Paigy

Posted December 23rd, 2009 by debritz

If, like me, you heard reporter Neil Doorley refer to Channel 9 Brisbane newsreader Bruce Paige as "BP" during a live cross on Monday night, you may have wondered whether Nine News was becoming less formal. I asked a Channel 9 publicist if this was on purpose and here's the response: "No deliberate effort to make the news more informal, just a very natural and familiar exchange between Paigy and Neil."

Fools lead the way

Posted December 23rd, 2009 by debritz

While Australians often share the British sense of humour, huge success in the UK doesn't necessarily translate to high TV ratings Down Under. A case in point: Only Fools and Horses, a comedy starring David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst. The show's 2001 Christmas special has been named the most-watched show of the decade in Britain, with 21.3 million viewers, translating into a massive 74 per cent audience share. I believe OFAH has screened at various times in Australia, but you'd be hard-pressed to find 74 individuals who have seen it at all.

O is for Oprah

Posted November 23rd, 2009 by debritz

Overheard conversation between two late-teenage women on a Brisbane train:
First: Oprah's quitting. I was going to text you.
Second: Oh my God.
First: Yeah, I only heard the first part of it, but it's totally next year.
Second: I was going to become a student next year just so I could watch her.

ABC issues social media policy

Posted November 5th, 2009 by debritz

ABC managing director Mark Scott has issued guidelines for the use of social media such as Twitter by ABC staff and contractors. The policy's four enforceable standards are:

1. Do not mix the professional and the personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute.
2. Do not undermine your effectiveness at work.
3. Do not imply ABC endorsement of your personal views.
4. Do not disclose confidential information obtained through work.

Seems sensible enough to me.
Update: The Australian has a report on Scott's digital strategy, as revealed at the Media140 conference, here.

Old news is new news

Posted November 2nd, 2009 by debritz

For those who missed it on Sunday night, here's original Channel 7 newsreader Brian Cahill back on the newsdesk 50 years to the day since he read the station's first bulletin:

V preview

Posted November 1st, 2009 by debritz

Here's some teaser video from America's ABC network of the remake of sci-fi series V:


There's more video here.

Game over for Junglist

Posted October 31st, 2009 by debritz

I've never watched ABC2's Good Game and probably never will, because it's not a show designed for me. In fact, it's likely that I wouldn't have even heard about it if not for the minor media storm surrounding the departure of co-host Jeremy Ray, who goes by the name Junglist. He claims he was sacked because the ABC wanted to hire a female presenter; the ABC is saying he had to go because of performance issues (you can read about it here at news.com.au). Of course, Junglist's allegation spurred a fury of "PC gone made"-style accusations, to which the ABC is susceptible apparently on the grounds that it generally tries to have a balance of staff that reflects the fact that about half of the people in this country are women. I simply don't know the facts of this case, but I do think that Junglist has received mainstream publicity well beyond the norm (and, dare I say, the importance of the story) because he's hit a nerve. There are plenty of people who think that they've been discriminated against on the basis of gender. Or age. Or weight. Or race. Or religion. Or whatever. From the media perspective, it's a great story because it ticks several boxes, including the obligatory ABC bashing. If Junglist's claims are proven true in an appropriate legal forum, they deserve publicity and he deserves recompense. In the meantime, it's all just speculation -- he said v. they said -- which, at the time of writing, about 270 news.com.au readers have been happy to join through their comments.

Seven's little tease

Posted October 30th, 2009 by debritz

A teaser for Brisbane Channel 7's 50 Years special:


I wonder if it will include the time I was on the quiz on their Saturday kids' show? Or when I was nearly on It's Academic, or when I was speaking about sub-editing will the lovely Jill Ray on Wombat?

What Jerry did then

Posted October 30th, 2009 by debritz

With all the buzz about the Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jerry Seinfeld is a hot topic again. Here's what he was like in 1981 in his first appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson:

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